9 Ways to Improve Amazon Ads For Authors

More product searches start on Amazon than anywhere else, even Google. It’s the world’s biggest bookstore and by far the largest ebook retailer. But Amazon Ads is still very much a work-in-progress, particularly the slightly pared-back version authors get to advertise books.

Self-publishers tend to focus on making books visible on Amazon. Aside from being a market leader, and having famed frictionless purchasing, there is another key reason why such a focus often gets the best return. Unlike other popular sites, anyone visiting Amazon is generally there for one reason: to buy stuff. You aren’t interrupting them while they share dank memes with friends, or search how fast a raven can fly during winter.

AMS is often referred to as “new” but it has been around for more than two years now. While AMS offers a variety of ads to third-party sellers which can increase app downloads, drive traffic to websites, or boost sales, we”ll specifically focus on the bits open to self-publishers: the Sponsored Product ads and Product Display ads for selling books.

AMS has seen an explosion in popularity this year, with a range of courses and webinars and books and workshops all promising to teach you how to be an AMS whiz. They are probably all over-egging it at least a little bit, because the platform is fundamentally under-developed, and hasn”t changed much from what was first launched in beta a couple of years ago (and I”m told it has implemented little of the feedback provided by beta testers).

Success on AMS is tricky to attain, frustratingly fleeting, and difficult to scale. There are some pretty basic flaws with the system that are holding us back from becoming better advertisers.

The marketing world is filled with talk of Amazon plans to take on the dominant duo of Facebook and Google in the advertising space. I have a bit of experience in this area, having previously worked for Google AdWords and managed multi-million dollar campaigns. I recently refreshed my AdWords certification to make sure those skills are up to date, I”ve been running Facebook campaigns for several years now, gaining a pretty good understanding of that endlessly complex platform, and I have gained some good experience recently with BookBub ads also.

One thing is clear: Amazon has quite a bit of work to do if they are going to convince large brands and big marketing agencies to spend significant portions of their budgets on AMS.

I think we can assume Amazon isn”t done iterating, though, and with that in mind I”ve pulled together some suggestions on how to make things better for everyone – authors getting a better return when advertising their books, Amazon themselves through increased advertiser spend, and readers too in the form of more relevant and useful ads.

Some of this feedback is quite negative – actually nearly all of it is very negative indeed – but the sole motive is to get features and tools which will allow me to be a smarter advertiser, one who can spend more at AMS. I hope it’s taken with that spirit in mind.

1. Support

One of the first obstacles you might run into is ads getting rejected, often for unfathomable or inapplicable reasons, and any appeals regarding same can take seven days or more to process as AMS has no actual direct support at the moment, and everything must go via KDP – and customer service agents there don’t seem to know the policies very well.

This isn’t good enough. We’re spending enough money on the platform to get actual support. Remember, we’re not suppliers in this context, we are customers of the AMS platform, and Amazon’s famed customer focus is a little blurry here. We shouldn’t have to wait seven days for a response to an email. It usually means the money I planned to spend on AMS gets spent on Facebook or BookBub instead.

Some examples of how this plays out in practice:

I was split testing different creatives for Let’s Get Digital. One focused on how it was endorsed by many other writers, and I had some phrasing like “the guide that bestsellers recommend.” That was rejected as books can’t claim bestseller status without it being proven. But the ad wasn’t claiming bestseller status (even though it has actually sold enough), it was claiming the book was endorsed by bestsellers, which is demonstrably true, and visibly so on the product page. Anyway, I went around in this loop with Amazon, with seven days between responses, and wasn’t getting anywhere so I just changed the ad. The next ad text said it had “over 300 five-star reviews” and that was rejected for referring to reviews “which are dynamic and can change.” Maybe that was an edge case anyway, fair enough.

An author friend has written a romance novel which has the words “Rock Star” in the title. But her ad was rejected and her appeals ignored on the grounds that Amazon has rules about referring to the star-rating in ads. At this point you would be forgiven for thinking that Amazon is testing out some kind of customer service AI, with decidedly mixed results.

2. Making Changes

After you have set up your campaign and navigated any potential rejection issues, you may realize you made an error in your ad text, or you might have thought of something snappier. If you want to go back and edit your creative, sorry, that’s not possible. You have to start a brand new campaign, and lose any positive click/purchase history on your keywords. Everything should be editable once a campaign is live. This is pretty basic stuff, something a smaller platform like BookBub can easily handle, let alone Facebook.

And it’s not just ad text. On Amazon, you can’t change your campaign name once it is live, meaning you can be left with the garbled nonsense that inexplicably forms the default text. You can change your bids, but you only individually. When you have 1,000 keywords in a campaign, this can take quite some time indeed.

As a result, people often just copy the campaign and start again. But then the new campaign will have wildly different results, on all metrics. Impressions, clicks, and sales can all be dramatically different for reasons that are completely indiscernible, which I’ll talk about more below.

3. Reporting Delays

As anyone who has ran an AMS campaign will know, it can take three days or more before sales will appear in your ads dashboard. Problem is that clicks (and related costs) come in sooner than that, and impressions come in even quicker. You might see impressions on the first day and clicks on the next, but often have to wait until the third day to see if that exposure and spend is turning into sales. This makes it really tricky to measure success.

Maybe this isn’t an simple problem to solve (but I’d note BookBub does it far better). It would be better if all numbers had the same delay. I don’t mind as much if it takes AMS three days to report impressions. If clicks, sales, and impressions are coming in at the same time, then I can measure things properly. Right now, it’s impossible.

4. No Customization

AMS requires a lot of trial and error, and that when you get something to work, you are often loathe to touch it in case it stops working. This means you can have several pages of campaigns, with most of them defunct and no way to archive them, or organize your account in any useful way. Even crudely ordering the dash by Campaign Status will put the Terminated accounts on the top, meaning the active ones can spill onto the next page.

What we really need is more tools to see the data we need in an instant, so we can make smarter decisions (i.e. spend more money on ads that are more relevant to customers). I should be able to filter Active campaigns only. I should then be able to slice and dice those campaigns and order by ACoS or Impressions or Spend or whatever I want. Again, this is pretty basic stuff that every competing platform can handle. AdWords, for example, had this functionality ten or fifteen years ago.

5. No Filters

On that note, I should also be able to filter my dashboard by date so I can see what served today, or what my spend was this week, etc. At the moment, everyone is flying blind. We only get cumulative lifetime numbers, which is crazy! To find out what you spend in the last week, or yesterday, or in July, you have to manually track those numbers as you go along. There is no way of doing it after the fact.

Again, this is standard at Google and Facebook and BookBub and anywhere else that has a paid advertising platform. Why Amazon doesn’t provide this basic data is beyond me. Again, it’s preventing me from making smart decisions, and the dumb money is flushing out the savvy advertiser – threatening the long term-health of the platform, for everyone, including Amazon. I could track it manually, but I just don”t have the time. Which means I either don”t do it and make bad decision on AMS… or spend the money elsewhere.

6. Sales & ACoS

This is a big one. Sales and ACoS are the two metrics we use to judge the success of our campaigns. But they aren”t reliable. ACoS is just a function of Sales, so I”ll focus on the latter.

We are given just the raw sale price of any books sold as a result of an AMS ad. So if my book retails for $2.99, that”s the number that will appear in the Sales column, regardless of whether I received 70% royalties or 35% royalties for that particular sale, or whether delivery fees were deducted, etc. Needless to say it would be much more valuable to get a number related to what I”m actually receiving for that sale.

Much more serious is the problem related to paperback sales. I could have an e-book retailing for $4.99 and a paperback retailing for $12.99. All of these sales are just thrown together. So I could see Spend on one campaign of $16 and Sales of $25.98, and conclude that the campaign is profitable. However, if that figure relates to two paperback sales rather than a number of e-book sales, I could be making a huge loss. And because we only get cumulative lifetime numbers (which is completely nuts), it becomes impossible to tell over time whether the sales number contains paperback sales which are hugely skewing the numbers.

The net result is that we end up wasting lots of money on unprofitable campaigns. This is unsustainable for Amazon, and means readers are getting served more untargeted ads than they should.

7. Information Vacuum

We are constantly guessing with AMS. Did this previously successful and ROI-positive campaign stop working because it had a low CTR overall? Will it restart if I prune the worst keywords? We never really know for sure.

Facebook ads can stop mysteriously too, but it”s usually a case of fiddling with a few things to get them running again. With AMS, this process is maddening. You can go through the laborious process of upping your bids on hundreds or thousands of keywords, and you will have to wait three days to see if that has done the trick – and have to manually compare the numbers to see if any effect is present, because all we get is cumulative lifetime data. (Have I said how crazy that is?)

And even if you go through all that rigmarole, you might just find that you misdiagnosed the reason, and that your ads haven’t resumed their previous level of serving. A standard process of elimation that can take a few hours on Facebook or BookBub can take days or weeks on AMS. Often you just give up and start a new campaign. Which then has completely different results for equally indiscernible reasons.

I know that Amazon is famously tight-lipped. I know how tech companies operate. They want all your data, but don”t want to share any of theirs. Even their data about you!

But, really, some more information about how AMS works will make us better advertisers. When I worked at Google they were just beginning the process of being more open about how everything worked, and now they have a full outreach effort teaching advertisers how the system works and what best practices are. I hope Amazon goes on a similar journey – it really does benefit everyone, without needing to compromise any proprietary information.

8. More Relevancy

Did I mention I want to be a better advertiser? This is important, not just so I can get a good return and add to my already impressive collection of Fabergé eggs, but also so that we are all serving more relevant ads to customers, which will increase user trust in the ads, and increase CTRs, and make the ads more viable, and make everyone more money, including Amazon.

I’m sure relevancy is a factor in the ad auction somewhere, but because AMS is a total black box, I don”t know what exact role it plays – which makes it harder to optimize my campaigns. Is it better to have multiple 1,000 keyword campaigns, for the same book, targeting every tangentially comparable author and title, and to prune as I go? Or is it better to regularly start new campaigns with all my keyword winners from each campaign into one keyword supergroup?

I have my suspicions that the relevancy or quality score the system assigns is at a keyword level rather than at a campaign (or account) level, but can anyone really say that for sure? There could also be campaign-relevancy weighting applied at a lower level. Or I could be wrong. AMS isn’t easy to figure out.

I can say this though: whatever relevancy is built into the system isn’t weighted heavily enough. The penalty for being a bad advertiser is too low. (By bad advertiser, I mean someone serving untargeted ads – taking a scattergun approach and just targeting anything and everything.) Which means the dumb money is flushing out the good advertisers. Which means the ads will get less relevant and more expensive over time, which means users will click on them less, and so on. I”d argue this process is well underway already.

Increasing the relevancy factor in deciding which ad is served will have the opposite effect. It’s the long-term view, the one I hope Amazon will take, and the one which will cut across their core proposition less – i.e. the aim to show customers the products they are most likely to purchase.

You know what else could help? Some more options other than just “broad” keywords. I think “exact match” options are available in the wider AMS system, it would be good to see that here too, given that particular innovation hit AdWords in the early 2000s.

9. For The Love of All Things Holy: Borrow Data

This is tricky for Amazon for two reasons: first, it”s something that would have to be engineered specifically for us. Second, KDP doesn’t currently give authors borrow data. We get reads, but can only estimate borrows. And not very accurately either.

That said, we really need borrow data. The key metrics of Sales and ACoS are already a little misleading for reasons mentioned above, but being in KU ads another twist. Borrows are a function of visibility, so AMS ads can and do have a positive effect on reads in our KDP dashboard. But we don’t get any metrics in AMS related to them. Ebook sales, paperback sales, and that’s it. No borrow data – and reads often make the difference between a profitable campaign and a money loser. At the moment, we can only guess, which means we are probably often killing good campaigns and letting bad ones roll.


AMS has huge potential. Huge. But it hasn’t developed much since launch. Reporting is like an early beta that should have been updated before going live. It’s amazing that the only data we get is cumulative lifetime numbers. It makes it difficult to optimize, and hugely time consuming too.

The tools we do have just aren’t fit for purpose. Most of the major issues above surround problems related to reporting, presentation of data, and general usability – basic issues which should have been resolved already at this point.

AMS is also too much of a black box. Amazon doesn’t really share how the system works in any kind of detail – it’s all pretty vague and opaque – and we can’t figure it out because we aren’t given enough data. I’ve been running AMS ads all year on and off, and I’m not entirely confident I can say that I’ve gotten that much better at using the platform – which stands in marked contrast to BookBub, and even Facebook, despite it’s incredible complexity and constant changes.

If we had more data and better tools, everyone would benefit – Amazon and readers too.

* * *

I”m very open to the possibility that I”m a dumbass, so if I”m talking nonsense above or you have solved any of these issues, or have any general AMS tips, I”m happy to hear them in the comments!

David Gaughran

David Gaughran

Born in Ireland, he now lives in a little fishing village in Portugal, although this hasn’t increased the time spent outside. He writes novels under another name, has helped thousands of authors build a readership with his books, blogs, workshops, and courses, and has created marketing campaigns for some of the biggest self-publishers on the planet. Friend to all dogs.

69 Replies to “9 Ways to Improve Amazon Ads For Authors”

  1. I’ve been running the same AMS sponsored ad campaign for nearly a year now for my crime novels and it’s still delivering steadily. It’s been making me about £400/month (net of costs) from 5 titles (now 6). That includes KU etc., page-reads (about 75% of the total). I don’t know if that’s good, bad or awful, but very welcome anyway. I’ve started other campaigns, including a couple of ‘copy’ ones but have had to dump most of them because they cost a bomb and don’t deliver. I have an auto one that works a bit.
    I still ad and prune keywords (almost all of them authors) from time to time and have maybe 12 (I haven’t counted them) that seriously deliver. I’ve noticed that one or two are ‘slow burn’ and don’t do much for weeks or months and then suddenly ‘break out.’ Odd.
    I’m quite surprised to hear another poster describe the ads as a form of junk mail, but then I’m a writer, not so much a reader, and they are always of interest. Some of them seem to be very badly targeted. Sub-genres are definitely required.
    Incidentally, I tried reducing novel #1 to £0.99p a week or so ago and have seen a huge and instant uptick in sales of the entire series. No lag at all. Thanks for that one, Dave.

  2. Great article, thank you! A fellow author recommended your book, “Let’s Get Digital” before I published, and it was so helpful.
    Now that my book has been up for a while, I decided to run Amazon ads. I’m torn about buying a keyword app like KDP Rocket, as I’m not even sure how much it would help. The idea of “tweaking” keywords seems like a fool’s errand.

  3. What I don’t get is how long it takes for sales to show up. My ad *estimates* that I’ve sold over $100 worth of ebooks yet when I look on my reports, all I see is $11 worth of royalties. Even if I take the entire price of the books, it’s still only around the $30 mark. It’s been way over 3 or 4 days-probably weeks and yet still all these *supposed* sales still aren’t showing up… Are the estimated sales really just that far off? Is the system tracking sales of items that aren’t mine? I would guess after a week or more, surely the sales figures would be correct. Anyone else encounter this?? I can’t seem to find info anywhere else where someone has this problem. If the estimated sales are that wrong, it seems impossible to me to know how effective the ad truly was.

  4. Well, I tried a sponsored ad’. Been going a month. Have slowly built up to about 100 keywords (started with thirty or so). Only about a dozen really work, with half that as real ‘stars,’ (not always the obvious ones). My genre is a relatively small one. Might be hard to find more relevant stuff (if I stick to authors anyway). Have sold about a 100 x $3.80 novels @ 70% royalty, with about half the time at least three of a series of four being ordered too. No idea if that counts as good. It’s paying me pocket money but soon my aCos will be 84%. It just goes up and up. Not sure what to do about that. I trim all the rubbish but you are always going to get the new ones with just a couple of clicks and have to wait to see how they shape up. Meanwhile the aCos adds up. Still, we’ll see.

  5. I see this post is from 2017, but have to say, “Thank you!” for posting it. I started with AMS a week ago and, unfortunately, your negative issues still exist. The only reason that makes me happy is that I thought the problem was ME! Now I know I’m not alone. Whew!

  6. Thanks very much for the above, David. I haven’t made a start yet — I thought I’d go for Sponsored Products — and I feel I’ve learned a lot here. As a used bookseller as well as a writer, I can tell you that ALL Amazon’s systems are as complex, frustrating, arbitrary and impenetrable as AMS. So much so that I have withdrawn from Amazon Marketplace, as have many others I know. You get the impression that the whole thing is run by one, not very bright, person, who is off sick a lot. The rest is AI, with not a lot of I!

  7. With the data it collects AMS could create AI that accepts a book, plots how it will sell best, creates a plan for that, and quotes a package rate back to the advertiser. Why not go all the way with this?

  8. I’m running Amazon adverts for several of my novels. Has anyone noticed that there are on some pages not one, but TWO strips of “sponsored product” adverts? In some cases, it seems to be because there are up to 60-plus pages in the strip. But in other cases, only a few. David, do you have any thoughts on why this is happening?

    1. I’ve seen that every so often. I presume they are split testing, and seeing how customers react (hopefully not with enthusiasm because it’s ridiculous and tacky). An even newer one is shoehorning two ads in the middle of the search results as well as the top and bottom.
      Hey Amazon, maybe just make the ads better and more relevant and people will click on them?

      1. But the issue here really is … how many readers actually click through SIXTY-FIVE pages of sponsored product ads? My guess? Fewer than 1 percent. Which means I must raise my CPC significantly, to get a significant number of “impressions,” ie. eyes on the advert. But meanwhile, there’s another strip of sponsored product ads lower on the page with much fewer pages. So it does matter which strip my advert appears on.
        I have to say that I am not as harsh a critic of Amazon adverts as some on this thread. If one chooses their 999 key words carefully, a significant number of eyes will see my bookcover and advert. Way more than would be the case if I only relied on my sales rank. And some will buy my book. Also key here … if they like that book they will likely buy others in the series.
        David, I’m not sure exactly what you mean when you say Amazon should make the ads better and more relevant. Make them better how? More relevant how? And to whom?

      2. I mean that there isn’t enough relevancy built into the system. Google makes relevancy (i.e. CTR) around half of your bid for the auction, meaning a relevant ad can beat a bigger bid to that top spot, meaning users then see much more relevant ads, not just the advertiser with the biggest bid.

        At the moment there is very little penalty built into the Amazon system for being a bad advertiser, for spamming the market in all directions, for just trying to bully the market with big bids, which is why you get terrible ads beating good ads, and genre-inappropriate ads everywhere. Which is bad for everyone, including the long-term health of AMS (because users will hate the ads and ignore them). This is already happening. CTRs of 0.1% are standard but awful – over ten times worse than what we would consider acceptable on BookBub or Facebook.

  9. The biggest problem I’ve encountered with AMS is I set a budget of $5 a day, and it’s only spending $0.20 per day (this is on 999 keywords in one campaign). I don’t know how I’m supposed to get sales with that, and I really don’t understand why 999 keywords can’t spend more than $0.20 in a day.
    But, at least it’s marketing I can afford, I guess… No need to rush and pause it, ever. It won’t make a sale, but I can pay for it with pocket money. The free impressions are good. I like those.

    1. What are bidding, CC? Sounds like the bids are too low (for your genre). Try raising the most likely ones.

      1. Thanks Harald. I was bidding 0.26, but I’ve put it up to 0.56 a few times, and it doesn’t seem to make make a difference. I’ll give it another try on some other words, and see if does anything.

    2. Wow, someone took a dig at me specifically for no apparent reason below again.
      After a decade of harassment from the ‘same’ Gamergate trolls because I dared to call them out for abusing a 16 year old girl at ABNA 2010, I’d have thought they would have stopped following me to random blogs and throwing out digs after everything I post by now, and yet here we go again….

  10. Just discovered you can search on two different things at a time as well. So you can, say, search on “run” and a word from your book’s title (if you include title in your ad names) to see all the active ads for that book.

  11. Thanks for this insightful post, David. I"ve experienced many of the same frustrations as you. I started using AMS ads in January. Uniformly, my campaigns that start out strong with high ACoS and “magic keywords” begin to stutter and then slowly dwindle away. It seems counterintuitive for Amazon to stop impressions on a keyword that is raking in sales, but it has happened to me many times. My latest experiment is to dive back into product display ads. They did not work for me in January. But after hearing Brian Meeks interviewed on Joanna Penn"s podcast, I learned that they work for him and I decided to give them another shot. For me, it"s all about experimenting and trying not to get emotionally involved when the ads are doing well. I"m just grateful we have direct access to readers through these ads. Hopefully one day the system will actually make sense.

  12. What Amazon doesn"t have a way to do is efficiently spend my ad money to get my book ads to the people I want. Seems shortsighted. I want them to spend my money! But I don"t want it to be magical, just more effective than previous versions of advertising. I do better ads, they get more money – and more money from sales – we both benefit. Yes?

  13. Glad to know I"m not alone in my frustrations. I"ve run 100"s of campaigns and experienced all of this and have drawn pretty much the same conclusions as you (with about the same level of confidence since we never *really* know why certain things happened).

    One tip to ease the frustration just a bit — you can filter by the word “running” to only show your active campaigns. Now of course you won"t be able to filter on anything else after that point, but I usually only have 20-25 ads running at a given time so I can at least see them all on one page, and then I sort by campaign name, ACoS, etc. to further fine-tune. It doesn"t excuse Amazon"s lack of a real archiving system or a better search/filter functionality, but it can help ease the pain until they (ever) fix those things.

  14. I"ve done a few Amazon Ad campaigns with mixed results. One piece of advice, be sure to watch your daily budget spending like a hawk. No kidding. I had a limit of $23 per day and in one day it jumped $55. I immediately emailed them about it. Amazon “claimed” it was correct but refused to give me the data (actual number of clicks charged per day and book sales) to verify. A daily budget limit is a daily budget limit! Amazon should not exceed your dollar amount. They claim they didn"t, but I have no way to prove otherwise. They refused to share the data. BEWARE.

    1. When this happens, and I"ve seen lots of authors reporting even bigger jumps in daily spend, Amazon say that your daily spend is an AVERAGE (over a month). So $23 per day average is an effective cap of $690 per month and can easily result in $55 spend in a single day.

  15. Great post, as always, thanks. More wishes – (1) feedback on which of the targeted products produced click through (probably comes under your relevancy category) and (2) fix the insane bug that copies all of an ad"s legacy information like trailing seaweed – including the targets that were deleted – when duplicating the ad!

  16. I agree with a few of your comments, but the solutions to others are simple. I do this every day and it only takes me 10 minutes. Check your dashboard. On a printout (once a week) note the number of clicks, AND the cost of the advert. Check your sales dashboard to see how many copies, if any, the book sold. That will tell you if the advert is working or not.
    Someone did a post on Indie Authors about keywords. You need to have at least 500 for each title, preferably more, preferably with authors and book titles that sell a LOT of books. Ie, with sales rankings 50K or less. David G"s comment above tells how to do it.
    I"ve only had one advert rejected. If you stick to 150 Characters or less and don"t go wild and crazy with exclamation points, capitals, you"ll be fine.
    If you set your heart on your book advert appearing on a certain very popular author/book page, adjust your cost/click accordingly.

  17. Agree with your main points, David. And nicely in-depth. But I have to say, I"ve been running a keyword AMS ad for 6 months now (after some tweaking, restarts, etc.), and it"s working fine, albeit on a low level. It"s for a $0.99 Kindle-only, series opener novella in KU, and it just keeps drip, drip, dripping in positive ROI (ACoS under 35%). $1/day budget, 500 Impressions per Click, 15 Clicks per Sale, 400+ keywords, of which 26 are selling. And I do prune the keywords every few days or so. My system takes me almost no time so I"m happy to let it run. Of course, I would be happier if AMZM implemented the ideas you"re suggesting. ¡Adelante!

    1. I ordered the paperback version of Meeks"s book. Hasn"t arrived yet, but I"m hoping for some inspiration from there. David: Thanks for another very comprehensive blog. My own experiences mirror some of yours. I"ve listened to a few gurus on the subject. It"s amazing how different their approaches are. My latest effort is a whole set of ads, 12 of them, I think, targeting over 2,000 author names, segmented alphabetically. (The first ad targets author names beginning with "A", the second ad has author names beginning with "B" etc.). I set the default bid at $0.13 in all of them, as recommended by one of the gurus. After 6 weeks, not much was happening, so I chose one of the ads at random and increased the bid price from $0.13 to $0.31. Nothing changed so far. Maybe the number of impressions and cpc have increased on that ad. Remember my first ad that had an ACoS of 38%? We had some discussion about that on FB. I stopped that ad, and then copied and restarted it. It"s now running at ACoS of 60%

    1. I"ve been trying a variety of strategies that I"ve heard about. It"s a keyword-based system (the Sponsored Ads favored by most are, at least), and seeing as most people have problems getting campaigns to serve (or to scale if everything is good), it seemed like lots of keywords would be a good approach and I"ve seen a few people recommending that.

      Generating large keywords lists is a pain in the ass but it only needs to be done once. If you use keyword multiplier tools you can generate large lists quite quickly. There are lots of free online ones. Think about what readers might search for, and what combinations of comparable authors and titles they would organically enter. Once you multiply out all the possibilities you can hit 1,000 (the limit) quite quickly.

      And then once you have your list you can cut and paste it easily into any new campaigns. So, yes, a bit of set-up, but it"s a once off.

  18. If I had more time I would have illustrated the above post with some pictorial examples – but I"m packing for Colorado Gold.

    But maybe one picture will suffice to show several issues simultaneously.


    1. The campaign highlighted above looks like a winner. The first challenge with AMS is getting an ad to serve – this has had 800,000+ impressions in about 3 months so it"s doing fine on that front. However the CTR is pretty low, only 411 clicks. Which is a pity because conversion looks fine. The ACoS is 95.07% which looks like a marginal loss, but with KU reads and sellthru to Let"s Get Visible it could easily be a net winner. Certainly with a little pruning of a few bad keywords it could be a great ad.

    2. However, I now know that includes lots of paperback sales at $14.99. So this ad could actually be a big loser for me. How can I tell? It"s quite hard really. Amazon doesn"t give me enough information. Sometimes you can tell by paging through all the keywords and trying to isolate paperback sales, but man oh man is that tiresome.

    3. This is all moot though because I THINK this ad has stopped serving. Probably because of the low CTR. I think, because Amazon doesn"t tell me. I have to manually compare the numbers in my dash from one day or week to the next.

    4. Even if I do determine it"s not serving, I don"t know WHY it"s not serving. I can replicate the ad and prune the bad keywords and re-create all the initial conditions and the ad will perform completely differently the next time around (and it did!). Then you try and fix that new ad, and the circle of hair-pulling begins again.

    5. The second-to-bottom campaign is a more common problem AMS users encounter, especially when first using the platform. You finally get a winning ad – hey look at that ACoS, $16 of sales for every $5 spent! – and it just. stops. serving. Probably because of low CTR. I think. I can only guess because Amazon doesn"t tell me (it doesn"t tell me that it"s stopped serving, it makes it very difficult to figure that out, in fact, and then it doesn"t tell me why either – two crucial pieces of information).

    6. That campaign had some clear winners and losers in the keyword department. Some had great CTRs and conversion, others had high impressions and few clicks. Maybe the latter got the whole ad to stop. I don"t know, I can only guess.

    7. So the next step naturally is to take the winning keywords, prune the bad ones, and see if the campaign starts running again. It doesn"t. At least, I think it doesn"t. Amazon doesn"t tell me. And I don"t know why it doesn"t start again because… aw, you know.

    8. SO I start a new campaign with the best keywords. And that just doesn"t serve to the same level. Even when I nudge up the bids slightly to get it going.

    9. I start it again. This time I ditch the middling keywords also. And this time a random keyword does all the serving and the ad has low CTR and gets stopped dead by the system before it even tries serving on the gold keywords.

    10. So I make a supergroup of only amazing keywords. And the ad doesn"t perform at all. Few impressions, no clicks, no sales.

    Wine usually happens at that point.

    1. Ouch. The pain in all that does beg for wine.

      Brian Meeks (author of Mastering AMS Ads) has a really nifty spreadsheet that essentially requires you import each ads aggregate total on a daily basis, and thus calculates the delta from day to day. That gives you the ability to tabulate if an ad is speeding up/slowing down/whatever, and deduce when it has died.

      He then makes the broad assumption that ALL clicks from all ads for a given title contribute to ALL sales. So when you enter KDP e-book purchases and KENP data, you can make some deduction on the effectiveness of your ads, and then move to make suitable adjustments.

      In essence, I don’t look at the aCoS column or reported sales, because the thing simply never attributes ALL sales to your ads.

  19. I agree 100% with what you said, David. I"d add one more request: one of the choices is to auto-target an ad. I tried one of these and it worked fantastically! But I have no idea _what_ Amazon was targeting, so I couldn"t use this information to target my own ads. Would it be so hard to tell us what keywords or categories they used?

    1. Right, this is basic stuff!

      Another example: I currently have a Product Display ad which is close to breaking even. I"d like to tweak it but I can"t. It"s targeting 62 products. Which ones are generating the sales and which are useless money hoovers? I have no actual idea because Amazon doesn"t give us ANY data about those ads. It"s mad really.

  20. Wow, David, talk about timing. I tried AMS for the first time. Two campaigns, targeted in book categories and related genres for each of the two novels, ended on September 5. The results were disappointing: one impression, zero clicks, and yet the ads were running. I"m not fond of the fact results take up to three days to appear. I"m still analyzing the performance. Not sure what to think at this point.

    1. You can"t judge something that never got going. There was something wrong somewhere here, but one small change could get it running. With no impressions at all really, the issue is probably do with your keywords (how many did you have?) and/or your bids. If you had a small set of keywords and low bids then your ad would never have shown – which those numbers seem to indicate happened. Although you will be getting results from that campaign until September 8 or so…

      1. David, I targeted the ads to run by interest in fiction categories. One was supposed to run in three genres, the other I chose seven. Looking at the setup, there was no place to add keywords. Maybe next time I"ll choose to target ads by product. Perhaps impressions will appear by September 8, but I"m not holding my breath.

      2. When starting out with AMS ads, go for Sponsored Product ads – they are the keyword based ones, and better for learning the ropes as Product Display ads require a bigger budget. They don"t usually spend it, but there"s always the risk they do.

        After you click Sponsored Product ads and select the book you wish to advertise and your daily budget etc. (start small with like $5 or $10 a day tops), choose manual targeting.

        After that you"ll get a chance to input keywords etc. I find a list of comparable authors and titles works best. You can also pick authors/titles from your genre"s Top 100, but be aware they can chew through your budget pretty quickly.

        You"ll have to monitor it and kill any keywords that are costing you money but not converting to sales, and those that are getting lots of impressions but no clicks (as they can stop the whole ad showing) – just be aware of the reporting delays. Often you can kill an ad thinking it"s a loser, and then notice the next week that a load of delayed sales came in.

      3. P.S. Those interest-targeting ones are kind of weird. I could never get them to work – although I didn"t bother doing much testing with those as I can"t choose good fits for my genres really.

      1. I agree. Focus on the target market eliminate those who are NOT your market. There are billions of readers. NOT everyone wants to read my particular book but SOME do love to read my style of a mystery book. So mathematically I would start with the circle of people who read books, then people who read mysteries, then people who read small town mysteries, and similar authors whom I know by reading them have the same look and feel. This is why I liked your “Superfans” book.
        Thanks for this tip. Intuitively it seems as though picking authors and books similar to mine is logical target range.
        To me, it’s like selling a car. You don’t want just anyone who needs a ride. That’s comparable to anyone that reads a book. If you want to sell an SUV you would start with someone who has kids or a family and needs an SUV, not a sports car lover.
        Why would you try to sell a cozy mystery to a die-hard future apocolypse fan? I’ve read mean horrible 1-star reviews by people who love sci-fi who reviewed mysteries. Why are you even selling a mystery to that person when they obviously hate mysteries and give every sci-fi a 5-star review. Actual reviewer -not mine- I was curious why this person hated a favorite book that I loved. Turned out they only read sci-fi. I was doing research on why someone would NOT like a particular mystery book. I was using it as a reverse marketing tool.

  21. I find the cumulative, lifetime data the most irritating. I have no idea if the ad stopped working two days ago or if it"s going smoothly. I have no way of collecting data, so I have no way of knowing what the EFFING EFF is happening.

    With Facebook ads I know exactly what"s happening, and that has made all the difference (and has made me spend more money to make more – isn"t that what Amazon wants?)

    1. Totally. You have no idea how many time I had to delete sentences like “This shows contempt for it users” or “OMFG can you just fix the reporting before I take the toaster for a bath.”

  22. David, thanks for the summary. I"ve been doing AMS ads for a while, so I"m familiar with the pitfalls. I"d love to hear your take on how to make the AMS ads work better for us. My theory is that they work better for books in KU because, as you mentioned, visibility is hugely important for KU book borrows. But what about books that are not in KU? Any best practices you can share?

    1. Like virtually any advertising for books on Amazon, the ROI is better if you are in KU because whatever visibility you achieve will turn into borrows as well as sales. In practice it means that where wide book have to have an ACoS of 70% or better to be strictly profitable (paperbacks aside!), KU books can tolerate an ACoS of 100% or 140% or even 200%, depending on your usual mix of borrows and sales (some romance authors can see a mix as high as 80/20 borrows/sales). So basically, the same best practices as any normal campaign but with less margin for error.

      As for what *those* are, well that"s another blog-post-worth of info. Probably several. And the whole point of the above is that I"m not entirely sure anyone can highlight best practices at this point with 100% confidence beyond the most general stuff: targeted, hooky ad copy, targeted keywords and lots of them – based on solid author and title comparisons, constant monitoring, pruning of keywords that are costing but not converting, and of ones that aren"t generating clicks as they can cause the ads to stop altogether, not just on that keyword (I think). Low daily budgets to start off with at least, as things can go off the rails quickly before you optimize, and CPCs that are enough to get your ads to show properly, but not too much to kill your budget before you have a chance to see what"s converting.

  23. Excellent post, David, thank you – and although you start out by saying your points are mostly negative, it actually provides a very positive checklist for what Amazon needs to fix to make it a much more powerful and effective tool, which is in the interests of all parties.

  24. This pretty much sums up my experience.

    AMS ads work, but they"re incredibly frustrating and time-consuming to use. And everybody puts up with it because it"s still easier to sell books to people shopping for books than it is to sell them to folks doing anything else.

    This past week, all of my campaigns have slowed to a trickle and the new ones I created in desperation have done nothing.

    I"m learning more about AMS all the time. I"m just not sure what it is I"m learning.

    1. “I’m learning more about AMS all the time. I’m just not sure what it is I’m learning.”

      Yup. I feel like I"m playing a video game with heaps of RNG. You may do X and “win,” or you may do X and watch in confusion as a lot of funky stuff happens. Trying to figure out what occurred and why is next to impossible, with the paucity of information available about AMS"s inner workings.

  25. The lack of borrow data is most vexing to me (throughout their systems) as KU $ represents at least a third of my income. Thought i"ve shared all your other frustrations as well. Because of the life-time data limitation, I"ll pause a campaign and replicate it again, just to see what it"s generating currently. Finally, for many of the reasons you"ve pointed out, I almost always run short campaigns. If we had reliable real-time data, most campaigns would be ongoing, which equals more dollars to Amazon.

    AMS, like Kindle Scout and so many of Amazon"s other pet projects seem to be run this way: perpetual beta, limited staffing, and improvements are far and few between. But with AMS, they are definitely missing out on big money by not dedicating more staff to it. Hopefully, some of their minions are listening.

  26. Thanks for this. I was just trying to find out about Amazon Ads – I"ll give it a miss now. Still not sure what is best. I can"t afford Bookbub or any of the paid alternatives, so I"m left with Facebook Ads (also paid, but within reach) – about which I have read conflicting opinions. I hope Amazon pays attention to your well-reasoned and very constructive article – they seem to be passing up on something really good for all us self-publishers.
    (Shared on my Everyone Can Write Facebook page, thank you)

    1. You can spend low amounts on test ads for BookBub. My current method is to run an ad for 3 days with a small group of target authors (with the audience in the defined range of 10k-50k impressions). I set the budget at $10 spread evenly over the 3 days (so actual daily spend is just over $3, which is less than Fb"s minimum amount). If a group of authors doesn"t perform well on day 1 (less than 2-3% ctr), then I turn it off or change the targeting. I"ve gotten cpc rates as low as $.10-$.11 that way. Once you discover your best author targets you can test new ad creative options and increase your budget as available. My usual cpm bid is $7.99 but actual effective bid is usually much lower.

      1. Jerica, do you make your own ad creative? Or use the auto generated one? And how many authors do you try to target in each small group as you test? Thanks!

    1. I have not got into Amazon ads yet because every person I’ve read including the experts say don’t waste your money until you have 3 to 6 books. They tend to irritate me when I’m looking for a book. Somewhat like junk mail or robocalls, I ignore them. I’ve stopped using Amazon’s ad recommendations because they are so off the wall.
      I do like the “follow” feature. Amazon updates me on authors I like so I think that would be a better use of time and energy is to get a reader to follow me. Which is a lot easier than trying to ask them for a review and have them actually write one. I do ask my readers for these calls to action.
      Follows enticed me to buy books from authors I’ve read and enjoyed. I recently bought 3 new books from authors I like, and I have three or four pre-paid authors who are coming out with books in the spring. Amazon emails me these. I believe getting a “follow” and a “pre-paid” would be the golden ticket to superfans.
      OK. So in the meantime, I ‘m writing another book, Building an email list etc. I use Book Bub every day. I’ve even narrowed down my category to Crime Fiction as a genre. I get some good recommendations for books to read. It’s my vice. I don’t drink and drive, smoke, or gamble so I could do worse. (I do love Irish whiskey, butter, soda bread, cheese, and the lovely accent.)
      I’ll probably do Book Bub ads. They have their act together. Every day I get 4 or 5 books possible from Book Bub. Some days I read none some days I might choose 3 out of four. I am a voracious reader. Even during NANOWRIMO I’ve read 6 books in the last 2 weeks. I’ve slowed down this month. I gave up entering books in Goodreads because it took too much time to list them all. Now Amazon lists them for me-ha ha. Keep up the good work. I love your blogs.

    2. I’m sure a lot of people don’t buy the first time they click on an ad. But, if someone clicks your ad without buying but comes back another day to buy, is there a length of time after which, the buy wouldn’t show up on AMS?

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